Wednesday, February 03, 2016

First Love Them

I recently heard the story of a mother who, in the midst of her child's tantrum and while on the verge of a tantrum herself, summoned the ability to stop herself, "Before I say another thing, I want to hug you and love you." 

As a teacher, I start from the assumption that I love each of the children who cross our threshold: not that I will grow to love them, but that I already do. This is where all the power is, all the time, in love of the unconditional type. This is where success lies. It's where a good life lies. Everyone knows it, yet, as the mother in the story experienced, it's sometimes a monumental thing to be able to actually do it.

For the most part, I find it easy to love the children I teach, although there are some children, or at least some of their behaviors, usually of the repeated variety, that sometimes make it difficult for me to remember that I need to first love them, for both of our sakes. Usually, I'm present enough to love them in the moment, but too often it's only after weeks of frustration, like an epiphany, that I remember that I first need to love them. It's hard because that means I have to set aside all my anger and self-righteous self-talk, but I know that if anything good is going to come of our relationship, I'm not only going to have to love them, but I must make sure they know it.

Indeed, this is an important lesson that I'd figured out even before becoming a parent. I have, in the past, had a rather strained relationship with one of my relatives. Whenever we were together there was a good chance of at least one of us winding up mad or sad. Then one day I was in an exceptionally good mood and quite assertively complemented her for an achievement, telling her, honestly, that I was proud of her. The response was so good, I complimented her again on an unrelated matter, and the evening got even better. That's how I figured out that the best way for me to be with her was to love her even "more" -- more often and more loudly -- than I normally do my relatives with whom it's easier for me to pass the time. I suppose I'm open to the accusation of being a "phony," but there is enough about her to compliment that I've always been genuine in my praises. I've just learned to sing them a little louder in spite of the other feelings I may be experiencing.

That's likewise how I strive to approach the children whose behaviors make it hard to hang out with them. (And all children fill the bill at one time or another, see "Note" below.) I am honest and sincere when I say, "I'm happy you're here," and "I really like being your friend." I mean it when I say, "I like playing with you." And you can bet that any day now, I'm going to be moved to say, "I want to hug you and love you." Sure, I say these kinds of things to all the kids, but some people need it turned up a little louder to appreciate it, which is why I greet these children at the door or gate with all of my love, "You're here!"

(Note: Utah Philips said, "I respect kids. I love especially little kids. Little kids are assholes. But they're their own assholes, you see? It's when they . . . grow up and become somebody else's assholes (that) we're all in trouble, you know, like bankers or B-52 pilots and such.")

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Anonymous said...

This post came at absolutely the right time for me. So much so that it makes me cry. Thank you.

Cass said...

We do this at home. If a tantrum ever gets to a point where we have both lost it (or are about to lose it) I call a time-out.

I make the sporting time-out sign with my hand and say "Time-out, let's just pause this and start with the I Love Yous" or "...lets pause this and have a good cuddle".

It is a time out from the drama, the disagreement, the challenge. We cuddle, we say nice things, we bring our emotions down, and then only when we are both ready we resume the discussion - and this is usually after I verbally ask "okay, are we ready to try discussing this again" or "okay, we do need to talk about this, but I can wait as long as you need".

It works - every single time.

It is also empowering for me - it reminds me that I am the mum -- the coach, the captain, the adult, the one who has the most experience at controlling emotions - the one that can turn this around.

Beck said...

Such a great post - and then you quote Utah Phillips, too?! You are just too good sometimes.